I like to think of my life as a never ending book of stories and adventures. Recently I spent a few chapters waitressing and bartending as a civilian at Altus Airforce Base. At first I had my doubts about working for Uncle Sam and his corporate restaurant buddies, but soon I fell in love with my coworkers, my management team and most importantly, the customers who made it all worth while.
I can't begin to explain how much I have learned about the military by working as a civilian on base. I've learned a lot about the lingo, the mindset, and the amazingly high security codes, not to mention the fact that there are more jobs than I'd ever dream of—most of which ironically have nothing to do with airplanes.
As I said before, what has enthralled me the most is getting to know the people I'm serving. I've had the pleasure of chatting up all levels of the hierarchy and learned a lot by doing so. As someone who previously had no military connections or background, I've always had a high level of respect for those who served, yet I didn't fully understand what it meant to serve. Then I made friends with people my age who are giving up their lives—literally--for the sake of the free world, and my admiration has only grown. I actually was surprised to learn that I have a lot in common with many of those serving. Some join to get their college paid for, others join in the name of adventure, I've met men who signed up so they could fly and women who enlisted for the benefits. As an ambitious traveler who's spent months searching for a job with insurance, it all makes a lot of sense to me, however I don't feel a desire to serve. That makes me appreciate these men and women all the more.
Throughout my time as a civilian I have served food and beverages, listened to stories and directed students to the nearest attractions. Some would say my job of waiting and bussing is a small one, but I have never held a more honorable job. Every day I was grateful that I could serve those who serve. It is a very humbling feeling to know that you are giving back to those who are giving the most. These men and women have surrendered their freedom, their families, their everyday lives and their careers so the rest of us can enjoy those simple pleasures. I have always fully recognized this as an admirable thing and so if I can provide some of these men and women with a pleasurable dining experience or a few hours of laughter and relaxation, I'd say it's the very least I can do, and I take that very seriously. It absolutely is an honor to serve those who are doing so much for our country, especially in times like today.
Many of the customers I've served have turned into great friends. I love that I have new friends from all over the world—friends I met in Altus, Oklahoma, of all places. It's funny to me, but I feel as though I have more in common with these individuals than I do many of the friends I've grown up with. Even as a civilian, I share the same ideals and goals as many of these adventurous service people. They understand travel and respect, they all seem to be on a road to empowerment and bettering themselves and yet they have come to be the most kind and honest people I've known. Suddenly all of the ticks and quirks that set me apart from my local piers have become natural ideas and progressions of dozens of other like-minded individuals who see life through the same scope as myself.
Perhaps this is why I feel as though I temporarily adopted many of these friends. To be quite honest, everyone wanders into the Club on their first day in Altus. They're exhausted from in-processing, confused at where the hell they are, and irritated that Altus is so far from the rest of the world. As an optimistic local, it's been really fun to teach these guys and gals the ropes. I've recommended local attractions (ARTICLE HERE), suggested dining options and even invited a select few into my home. After punching the clock, my role as a civilian bartender sort of transformed into that of a town-wide AirBnb host. What started as a simple excursion here and there has turned into several months of some of the best memories I've ever had.
I've heard a Californian ask me if tornadoes were real (Coors Mountain), I've introduced a New Yorker to his first dirt road experience, and I've witnessed a lot of new-found appreciation for the slower pace of life. Throughout all of this it has been a blast to watch the opinions of Altus change from shock and disgust to fun and audacious. You don't think of Southwest Oklahoma as a cultural hub, but after teaching dozens of visitors how to two-step, off-road and dance the Cumbia, I have to say, we are a place unlike many others.
I know my military adventures aren't over for good, but they will definitely be slowing down as I have recently accepted another job position. All this to say—Altus Air Force Base, it's been an absolute pleasure getting to know a few of the people who have roamed through our part of the world. If nothing else, you all have kept the last few months of my life full of excitement. Most importantly, you've taught me to accept the person I am, follow my dreams and link up to others with like minded aspirations. I couldn't ask for a better chapter.